The Signifying Power of Pearl
by Jane Beal
This book enhances our understanding of the exquisitely beautiful, fourteenth-century, Middle English dream vision poem Pearl. Situating the study in the contexts of medieval literary criticism and contemporary genre theory, Beal argues that the poet intended Pearl to be read at four levels of meaning and in four corresponding genres: literally, an elegy; spiritually, an allegory; morally, a consolation; and anagogically, a revelation. The book addresses cruxes and scholarly debates about the poem’s genre and meaning, including key questions that have been unresolved in Pearl studies for over a century:
- What is the nature of the relationship between the Dreamer and the Maiden?
- What is the significance of allusions to Ovidian love stories and the use of liturgical time in the poem?
- How does avian symbolism, like that of the central symbol of the pearl, develop, transform, and add meaning throughout the dream vision?
- What is the nature of God portrayed in the poem, and how does the portrayal of the Maiden’s intimate relationship to God, her spiritual marriage to the Lamb, connect to the poet’s purpose in writing?
Noting that the poem is open to many interpretations, Beal also considers folktale genre patterns in Pearl, including those drawn from parable, fable, and fairy-tale. The conclusion considers Pearl in the light of modern psychological theories of grieving and trauma. This book makes a compelling case for re-reading Pearl and recognizing the poem’s signifying power. Given the ongoing possibility of new interpretations, it will appeal to those who specialize in Pearl as well as scholars of Middle English, Medieval Literature, Genre Theory, and Literature and Religion.
The International Pearl-Poet Society is sponsoring the following two paper sessions at the 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies (May 11-14, 2017) at Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MI:
I: Death and Rebirth in the Pearl-Poet
II: The Transformative Pearl-Poet: Translation and Adaptation
We invite abstracts from scholars of all levels, dealing with one or all of the Pearl-Poems. Papers should be no more than 20 minutes long. Submissions should include one-page abstracts and the completed Participant Information Form (https://wmich.edu/sites/default/files/attachments/u434/2016/medieval-pif-2017.doc). Please send these by September 13, 2016 to:
Kara Larson Maloney
Department of English, General Literature & Rhetoric
PO Box 6000
Binghamton, NY 13902-6000
God and the Gawain-Poet:
Theology and Genre
by Cecilia A. Hatt
(Boydell & Brewer, 2015)
Pearl: A New Verse Translation
(Liveright, An Imprint of W.W. Norton, 2016)
Pearl: A New Verse Translation
(Faber & Faber, 2016)
A Review in the New Yorker
The Folio Society’s
Pearl Manuscript Facsimile Edition
with transcription and translation Malcolm Andrew and Ronald Waldron
Epistemological Perspective of the Pearl-Poet
by Piotyr Spyra
(Ashgate Press, 2014)
- Original and engaging, this study presents the four anonymous poems found in the Cotton Nero MS – Pearl, Cleanness, Patience, and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – as a composite text with a continuous narrative. While it is widely accepted that the poems attributed to the Pearl-Poet ought to be read together, this book demonstrates that instead of being analyzed as four distinct, though interconnected, textual entities, they ought to be studied as a single literary unit that produces meaning through its own intricate internal structure. Piotr Spyra defines the epistemological thought of Saint Augustine as an interpretive key which, when applied to the composite text of the manuscript, reveals a fabric of thematic continuity. This book ultimately provides the reader with a clear sense of the poet’s perspective on the nature of human knowledge as well as its moral implications and with a deeper understanding of how the poems bring the theological and philosophical problems of the Middle Ages to bear on the individual human experience.
51st International Congress on Medieval Studies
University of Western Michigan, Kalamazoo, MI